HOKA Cielo X1 Review: a new Sheriff in town?

HOKA launches the Cielo X1 to compete against the Alphafly 3 and the Prime X 2. Is it a successful attempt?

HOKA Cielo X1: the battle of beefed up supershoes

HOKA released a phenomenal racing shoe last year with the HOKA Rocket X2. I raced the 20km of Brussels in them and loved the experience. I believe they were my favorite racing shoe of 2023, with a 10/10 fit. Many people compared them to a Nike Vaporfly and although the ride differed significantly, I can totally see why it wasn’t compared to an Alphafly. Fast forward to 2024, HOKA releases a competitor to the Nike Alphafly 3, while still keeping the Rocket X 2 in their lineup. How does it perform and is it even comparable to the likes of an Alphafly 3 or adidas Prime X 2? Let’s find out. 

Specs: 

Weight in Alex’s size US11 / EU 45 1/3: 287g/10.2 oz

Official Stack: 39mm/32mm (7mm drop)

Upper – Why fix what it ain’t broken

I rarely give a 10/10. Not just to shoes but in life in general. 10/10 means perfection and nothing is really perfect. The upper of the HOKA Rocket X 2 deserved that 10/10 in my opinion. It was just perfect for me. Other HOKA shoes in 2023 also had a great fit. The Cielo Road, the Cielo FlyX, the Tecton X 2…well many of them. So naturally I was expecting something at least as good for the HOKA Cielo X1. 

 

Instead the HOKA Cielo X1 is rather disappointing. The upper is a made of a rathe thick textured material that is not very pliable. With a more rigid add-on playing the role of a toe bumper, the forefoot feels almost like a cup or a rigid bubble. This creates a lot of forefoot volume, that people with wider and higher feel will certainly appreciate. But I personally don’t need this on a racing shoe. The tongue is an asymmetrical stretchy knit tongue. Like most of these stretchy knit tongues, the lacing pressure on top of the feet is unpleasant for me. Further, the tongue doesn’t sit as nicely as it should. Last but not least the heel cup is quite large and this results in some heel movement and a bit of irritation when walking or running slow (edit: fixed with an insole swap).

 

Finally my biggest gripe with this upper is the laces. They’re plain bad. Maybe even the worst ever laces I’ve tested? Plasticky, rigid, not convenient and they unlace themselves every 5 minutes when running. I’ll change them for sure and HOKA better do the same in upcoming production batches of this shoe. 

HOKA Cielo X1 laces
HOKA Cielo X1 midsole

HOKA Cielo X 1 midsole: friendly, forgiving and more

Alright, with that spicy section about the upper we need to have something compelling in the midsole area or else the review will not be good. Thankfully, HOKA did a good job with the midsole. A dual density PEBA compound (for reference, the top softer layer is has a 37C durometer and the bottom harder layer has a 45C durometer) and a winged carbon fiber plate work together to provide with a smooth ride. The secret sauce is definitely the geometry and the cutouts. The bevelled heel secures soft landings and the long and pronounced rocker in the forefoot offer a deep sensation of forward motion at every step. The heel is actually designed in a way that doesn’t allow for too much pronation and help align the gait cycle in a targeted way. Same with the footstrike, that is controlled and happens around the midfoot area. Just like the Mizuno Wave Rebellion Pro, albeit the HOKA Cielo X1 doesn’t require a 2:30 marathon shape. 

I would define this ride experience as friendly and forgiving. It doesn’t mean that it can’t be fast and efficient. I actually believe that it is really efficient but it is not what comes to mind first. That is probably because of the weight that penalizes the ride experience a tad. The shoe rides heavy and that’s where it looses credit against the Nike Alphafly 3, a shoe 17% lighter in my size US11. 

HOKA Cielo X1 Outsole – Cutouts can’t compensate it all 

The rubber coverage on the HOKA Cielo X1 is excellent. It so excellent that it actually creates most of the weight excess on this shoe. Looking at the outsole, one can notice the three massive midsole cutouts. The midfoot one reminds me of what adidas did on the Adios Pro line, except it was on the medial side for the German brand and it’s on the lateral side here. The cutouts are interesting as they carve out some weight but that is not enough. A lighter upper (like on the HOKA Rocket X2) and less rubber coverage would help to bring the weight down, which is really needed on this shoe. 

HOKA Cielo X1 outsole
HOKA Cielo X1 full review

Conclusion – Does the HOKA Cielo X1 have enough to compete?

I’m really torn as I’m about to draft this conclusion. On the one hand the HOKA Cielo X1 brings a lot to the table. The geometry and ride experience will please a ton of runners. And a variety of them too. Most race day paces will work with this shoe, wider and higher feet will enjoy the fit, all types of footstrikes will appreciate the heel bevel and prolonged rocker. At €275/$275, the price is high but in line with the competition. So what’s wrong then? For me the upper and fit experience kill this shoe’s chances to compete against the big boys of the top league. The Nike Alphafly 3 fits like a glove and weighs 50g less in my size. The Prime X 2 doesn’t have an ideal fit but it’s still better than the Cielo X1’s.  I can predict that this shoe will sell well and I can already see myself using it a lot for long runs with some marathon pace pickups. But I can also predict that should HOKA tweak a couple of things, then the best shoes in the market can start to worry. 

Alex Filitti Meta Circle

Alex

29 years old

183cm (6′) – 68kg (148lbs)

Mid/Forefoot striker – Stride runner

Moderate pronator

@alexfilitti

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